How to stand out when you're one of four country-music kudosfests?
Well, if you're the 2012 CMT Awards, you nab a couple of supercharismatic hosts, spend most of the production budget on performances and, duh, enlist the president to give the night his seal of approval.
Here's what stood out tonight for better or worse (plus the complete list of winners, of course!):
Winning Intro: The CMTs kicked up some hype for the pairing of Toby Keith and Kristen Bell as cohosts with a video chronicling their fierce battle to be a solo host. Matthew McConaughey, Jon Bon Jovi, 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft, and no less than President Barack Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney weighed in—and it was funny!
Best Couple Alert: It's a toss-up between Carrie Underwood and hubby Mike Fisher and Underwood and Brad Paisley. Fisher gave his wife a huge hug and kiss when she and Paisley won Collaborative Video of the Year for "Remind Me"—and amiably held her purse while she was onstage! Then Paisley thanked "this beautiful woman for being in the video, or else it's just a dork walking through the desert...To my wife at home, there's nothing going on between me and Mike."
"Not yet!" Underwood cracked! We'll call it a cuteness draw.
Biggest Reunion: There are always bound to be American Idol alums in the house, starting with Underwood (check!) and, in more recent years, Kellie Pickler (check!). This year the Idol party included last year's winner, Scotty McCreery, his runner-up, Lauren Alaina, 2010 finalist Casey James and...2006 winner Jordin Sparks? Not exactly blowing up country radio, is she?
Most Random Presenters: Admittedly, we can't quite understand why Bell was a cohost, besides the reason she gave ("I love country music!") but we're even more confused as to why Denise Richards was there to introduce a performance by the Band Perry. We kinda get Dario Franchitti (he and wife Ashley Judd live in Nashville and IndyCar is a big deal), but what about Tony Hawk and Hayden Panettiere? And, um, Dax Shepard? "I know a lot of you are probably thinking that my fiancée, Kristen Bell, got me this gig, but it was actually my mistress, Tom Arnold," he joked. (Arnold was there, in case you were thinking the randomness had just reached a whole new level.)
Sweetest Acceptance Speech: Miranda Lambert, a winner for Female Video of the Year for "Over You," thanked hubby Blake Shelton's late brother "from heaven, for inspiring us to write this song."
Best Performance: Well, it's a toss-up between...um, all of them? Live music is what the CMT Awards (and the CMAs, and the ACMS) are really all about, and the lineup didn't disappoint, from the Pistol Annies, to Kenney Chesney to Lady Antebellum joining forces with Hot Chelle Rae to open the show. But we may have to give it to Willie Nelson, who was backed by the Zac Brown Band on "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die." Any questions?
Most-Deserved Wins: We don't judge. We were perfectly happy to see Underwood win the biggest fan-generated award of the night, Video of the Year, for "Good Girl." Same goes for belt-buckle recipients like Lambert, Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum and all the rest.
Here's the complete list of winners from the 2012 CMT Awards:
Video of the Year: "Good Girl," Carrie Underwood
Male Video of the Year: "I Don't Want This Night to End," Luke Bryan
Female Video of the Year: "Over You," Miranda Lambert
Group Video of the Year: "We Owned the Night," Lady Antebellum
Duo Video of the Year: "I Got You," Thompson Square
USA Weekend Breakthrough Video of the Year: "The Trouble With Girls," Scotty McCreery
Collaborative Video of the Year: "Remind Me," Brad Paisley with Carrie Underwood
CMT Performance of the Year: "Tattoos on This Town," Jason Aldean from CMT Artists of the Year
(Originally published June 6, 2012, at 8:10 p.m. PT)